Optical technologies are playing an increasingly important role in expanding our understanding of the brain. Deep structures below the cortex, however, are still quite challenging to probe and thus remain experimentally elusive. Scattering makes it hard to control light more than a few millimeters within biological tissue, so many of our standard optical tools (e.g., the microscope, spectrometer, and OCT probe) are less useful here. Our understanding of sub-cortical brain function thus remains quite limited. In this work, Chen and colleagues push one neural imaging modality, based on laser speckle contrast, deep into the mouse brain using a microendoscope. They are able to insert their thin tool many millimeters into the tissue without causing much damage, and can then directly record the cerebral blood flow within brain areas such as the thalamus, which is far from the reach of traditional optics. Their setup can potentially help improve our understanding of how impairments like acute hypoxia and arterial occlusion arise deep within the brain to subsequently effect function in other brain regions. Tools such as this, which expand our fundamental understanding of important phenomena, underscore the continued importance of optics in solving relevant biological problems.
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